DATE: August 26, 2002
BACKGROUND: President Bush, on Thursday, August
22, 2002, issued his initiative to prevent catastrophic wildfires
by returning to the sound forest management practices the environmental
movement has successfully eliminated.
Stung by criticism that the
policies set forth by the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense
Council, and a host of others have put our forests and forest
communities at risk, these groups are now criticizing the President's
plan. In doing so, they are offering their own plans -- plans
that recommend a continuation of policies preventing responsible
logging and thinning of overfueled forests, while providing little
protection for communities and absolutely none for the environment.
Since many in the media and
elsewhere are likely to reflexively accept the environmental smokescreen
of criticism and false promises, the following responses are offered
to clear the air.
Environmentalists: Forest fires are natural and should
be allowed to burn, except where homes and other structures are
Response 1: There is nothing natural about today's
catastrophic monster fires in federal forests, which are gorged
with fuel because environmentalists have blocked sound forest
management for years.
Response 2: Many of today's fires are much hotter
and faster-moving than anything nature ever designed, posing a
real threat to environment and forest communities.
Response 3: Today we know and understand the harmful
effects of air pollution. Monster fires spew tons of pollutants,
including fine particulate matter, which the Environmental Protection
Agency has recently classified as a health hazard.
Environmentalists: This year's fires are big because of
drought and Forest Service fire fighting strategies.
Response: Drought does not cause big fires, excessive
dry fuel does. Historic forests averaged 30-40 trees per acre
while today's national forests have 200-300 trees per acre, sometimes
more, all competing for the same water.
Environmentalists: Today's fires are no bigger than those
of the past.
Response: Simply not true. The size of today's
fires is double the 10-year average. They look small only when
compared to historic fires that burned many acres with much less
intensity and little damage.
Environmentalists: We should only thin forests in areas
150 to 500 feet around homes to protect the homes.
Response 1: In many cases, a nearly useless endeavor.
Under severe conditions, monster fires are capable of hurling
large burning embers for miles. This is one of the features which
makes them so difficult to fight and dangerous for fire fighters.
Setbacks of 150 to 500 feet are, therefore, irrelevant.
Response 2: We must protect the environment. Today's
fires are devastating millions of acres of habitat for hundreds
of species, many endangered, and killing animals themselves that
inevitably are trapped in the searing flames.
Environmentalists: The Bush plan to thin forests will
cost billions of dollars over 10 years.
Response 1: We are now spending nearly $2 billion
per year fighting fires and that doesn't even take into consideration
the value of homes destroyed and the tragedy of lost lives.
Response 2: Any capitalist worthy of the name could
make management of a valuable, renewable asset profitable. Large,
small and medium-size trees, as well as brush, will have to be
thinned to return our forests to good health. This is the only
way we will have trees growing to be "old growth" in
the future. As it is, many old growth forests are being lost in
infernos so hot the forests won't grow back for centuries because
the earth has been sterilized.
Environmentalists: The President's plan lets timber companies
decide where and what to cut.
Response: It will not. The Forest Service will
still write the contracts and set the rules. Forester managers
can even go so far as to mark which trees to cut and which not
to cut, if they so choose.
Environmentalists: The President uses the "thinning"
definition of the timber industry, not the definition of scientists.
Response: Actually, the reverse is true. Environmentalists
would not permit the degree of thinning required to return our
forests to health. Foresters have 400 years of experience to rely
on in designing forestry plans specifically for individual forests.
Environmentalists: The President's plan would simply take
Response: Actually, by working with private industry,
as the President suggested, things could move along quite quickly.
The only thing that would take time is rebuilding a timber industry
that has been drastically reduced by a two-decade, 90 percent
cut in U.S. logging caused by environmental activists. Restoring
forests incinerated by super-hot fires will take centuries.
Some environmentalists have
said that some logging could be permitted only if there is
no profit in it. This raises the question as to whether they
want to protect the environment or simply control the means of
You can get more facts on our
nation's forests from our Forest Policy Information Center at
Of particular interest will
be National Policy Analysis #424, Tree-Huggers Or Fire-Huggers?:
The Environmental Movement's Confused Forest Policy by Tom
Bonnicksen, Ph.D., which can be found at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA424.
by Tom Randall, Director
John P. McGovern, MD Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs
The National Center for Public Policy Research
Contact the author at: (773)
857-5086 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The National Center for Public Policy Research, Chicago office
3712 North Broadway - PMB 279
Chicago, IL 60613